Hydroquinone – Safe or Not Safe?

Many people find freckles attractive but I wanted mine gone so I turned to hydroquinone. My once adorable freckles turned into dark splotchy patches that made me self conscious.   Several dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons suggested the use of a hydroquinone based cream.   I was willing to give that a try before spending money on laser treatments.  After all, the cream was less than $100.  Laser treatments exceed $1000 but I’ve also heard of the laser treatments can increase pigmentation with certain skin types, particularly darker skin.   I’ve tried hydroquinone based creams in the past from drug stores and the creams didn’t make a  difference.  Later, I learned the maximum dosage in an over the counter cream was 2% hydroquinone. The products you can purchase from a physician’s office are 4% – 8% hydroquinone.  A big difference!   I purchased a product called Blender (Step 5) of Obagi which is 4% hydroquinone and after about 6 weeks of using it nightly, my skin was more even toned and spots faded away.  After several months of use,  I was willing to go out without makeup on.

Google it!  “Hydroquinone”

If you Google hydroquinone, guess what?  You’ll find various articles saying how effective it is. You will also find articles saying it may cause cancer, skin damage and who knows what else.  Perhaps, your left arm will fall off?  Despite this, dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons prescribe the cream all the time.  Actually, you can just walk into any office or medical spa and purchase it. You don’t have to see a doctor to purchase it.  I wondered… if there’s so much out there saying the product is harmful why would these physicians put their reputation on the line and keep selling it?   I asked a doctor that question and he said because there is no scientific evidence that the cream causes damage.  Also, if you examine the sources where this information comes from, it’s often promoting other products with different ingredients intended to accomplish the same thing.  Honestly, no matter what the topic is, you can find a well written article from what seems like a reliable source supporting any position you want to see.  I can find as many articles saying formula is better than breast milk as I can that say breast milk is better than formula.  So, I’m not buying into anything about hydroquinone unless a medical journal is put before me with a study showing results with statistical relevance.  Even with relevant results, if .005% of people experienced something negative when using a product, I’d probably still use it.  If 10% of users had negative effects, I’d think things through more carefully.

Lightening my skin with Obagi Blender

So anyhow, back to Obagi Blender. This wasn’t my favorite product because it smelled so bad.  OK seriously, it smelled disgusting.   I don’t know how they accomplished such a grotesque odor.  However, the product works and it lightened the dark spots on my skin. After using it for a few months, I purchased another product that was formulated by a doctor with 5% hydroquinone and .05% Retin A.

Hydroquinone cream
This is my bottle of Hydroquinone and Retin A cream that was formulated by a skin clinic that I am currently using and love.


I use this other formula every few days now for maintenance and it’s worked great with no side effects or odor. There are commercial products with similar combinations such as Tri-Luma which have been popular for many years.  So, as long as I can avoid laser treatments, I’ll keep using the hydroquinone creams.  So far, I’ve been really pleased with the results. It’s important when using these types of products to protect your skin with sunscreen but being a beauty fanatic, you probably already do that anyhow. 🙂

Have you tried any products to lighten and fade spots or the effects of melasma on your skin?   I have seen other products marketed that state they are very effective but I haven’t tried them.   Here is a picture of how my skin looks now.  Since I refused to be photographed prior to lightening my skin, I have no before photos!   I have a little makeup on in this photo but you can see how even the skin tone is.  When I apply my usual amount of makeup, the skin now appears almost flawless.  You just have to be patient and give the product time to work.


16 thoughts on “Hydroquinone – Safe or Not Safe?

  1. Good info! Maybe you can help answer something I’ve been wondering about ~ I have a prescription strength hydroquinone I’ve been patiently dabbing onto very exact spots on my body, so as not to bleach the surrounding skin. But my face… there are too many freckles and various “sun spots” to treat them individually. If I apply it to my whole face, should it end up even-toned, or just a lighter version of my current face, spots and all? There’s probably no definitive answer, I’m just afraid of working at it faithfully for nothing.

    1. It would be impossible for me to predict how the product would respond on your skin and I’m not a doctor, so I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong! But I can tell you about my experience with it. I use the 4% from Obagi and I apply it all over my face, as if I was applying a light film of moisturizer. The way I understand this product to work is… it’s targeting the actual pigment that is produced by melanocytes. So, it’s not really bleaching your skin but rather suppressing pigmentation from getting to the surface. When you stop using the product, the pigment will come back. There are different recommendations out there about how to use hydroquinone cyclically with other products to keep pigmentation at bay. I’ve never experienced an overall whitening effect but rather a lightening of the darker spots that gives my skin a more even tone.

      Here’s a link to a good article and it explains how it works. It also talks about how to use the product off and on again. But really, you should ask your doctor and not rely on the article. Everyone is different so your doctor may suggest a different regimen but this is a good overall explanation of what I’m saying here. I use mine 9 months on and 4 months off. My skin stays pretty even on the schedule my office has me on. You can also ask about IPL treatments for pigmentation. I have tried that too and it has been great and not really expensive either. I hope this helps?


  2. I recently learned my blood pressure med that I’ve been using for many years causes overall darkening if the face and hypersensitivity to the sun. My new dermatologist who is also an internist, told me about a natural alternative and she gave…well, sold…me a compound of arbutin, kojic acid,embluca and 6% hydroquinone. This is on pads that I will work up to using twice a day for the next 4 weeks. Then the plan is to incorporate a Retinoid as well. Of course, I am damn near bathing in sunscreen, but I found a clear lightweight non greasy spf40 that I love (supergoop unseen). I hope this works because my face is many shades darker than my body..it is really embarrassing in pictures. Wish me luck!

    1. Oh wow, 6% hydroquinone! I used to get a compound of 4% + kojic acid + trentinoin but my derma office stopped creating the compounds. And I really LOVED it. Is the compound that you get in a cream form? Are you in the US?

      I love Supergoop! Also, I really like the Jan Marini Antioxidant sunscreen but it does have a strong fragrance so some people don’t love it. It smells really good though, sort of like mango! I think a 6% hydroquinone solution is definitely going to make a difference. I see a huge change using 4% and you have other ingredients in there too? I would think you’ll have good results. I’d love to hear how it works for you.

      Did your doctor say to use the hydroquinone for just 4 weeks and then stop or can you use it longer?

  3. Hello Dear.
    You explain Skin treatment, anti-aging product review. It’s so effective and helpful.

    Samuel Khan

  4. is it okay to blend otc product of retin-a with hydroquinon on ratio 1:1 at my night routine? i probably want to try on 2% hydroquinon with 0.01 retin-a..thanks ?

    1. I combine hydroquinone with Retin-A and I use a product with hydroquinone (Obagi Blender) that was designed to be blended with tretinoin. The Blender is 4% hydroquinone and prescription. If I was going to use a different combo, I’d apply the Retin-A first to clean and dry skin. Wait about 20-30 min and then apply the rest of my products – hydroquinone cream, moisturizer, etc. =)

      Also, just an FYI – check with your doctor as hydroquinone shouldn’t be used long term. I go about 6-9 months on it, and then off for 4-6 months.

      1. when you mean off hq for 4-6 months does that mean you’re not using even a bit to maintain and have stopped using it completely?

        1. Yes… I stop using any products with hydroquinone for 4-6 months at a time. The lightened skin will last a while and I use other products to help maintain that don’t contain hydroquinone. SkinCeuticals just released a new product and Skin Medica has Lytera 2.0. Both are great lines and great products.

    1. Yes… in a drug store you can purchase hydroquinone products in lower percentages but if you want a hydroquinone cream that’s better, you can still buy it over the counter but you’d have to go into a dermatologist office or skin clinic to buy it. You wouldn’t need an appointment or prescription but that’s where you would go to get it. I purchase hydroquinone and Retin-A (I use .1% now) at a cosmetic surgeon’s office where they also have a skin care clinic.

      1. Hi! Thank you so much for the info & yes! You do look like your in uour. 30’s! ? my question is on getting the prescriptions, will only a dermatologist write them or can your reg.
        Doc? Also, is the formulas you mention costly or have you been able to get insurance to cover some?

        1. If you are the in U.S. – any doctor can write a prescription for a hydroquinone cream but you don’t even really need that. You can walk into any dermatology office or medical spa that sells products and buy them. I have never been able to get my insurance to cover the Obagi cream that I buy because it’s considered cosmetic. But some plans might! It’s about 100.00 for the bottle I purchase. Ogagi recently came out with another product that doesn’t require the prescription but I didn’t find it helped. On the site, they have a list of providers where you can find “the good stuff”.


  5. I want to try a product with hydroquinone to fade my freckles too. I’m scared to though – I feel like it’s potent stuff! I was considering trying one of Paula’s Choice Dark Spot Eraser which contains hydroquinone.
    Do you know if the fading is temporary – ie if I stop using the hydroquinone, then my freckles will come back?
    I’ve tried the whitening products from both Shiseido White Lucent and Clarins White Plus and they did nadda!

    1. My experience has been that as time goes on, and your face is expose to the sun, it can begin to show the spots again but I use the product on a maintenance basis to keep everything in check. I tried a ton of high end products, natural products, but nothing did it. The hydroquinone didn’t cause me any issues. Maybe the first couple of days I recall some redness but I throttled it and now I don’t have any issues. I combine it with Retin-A .05% and it keeps me looking like I’m in my 30s. When I am UNFORTUNATELY NOT.

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